Forman, winner of Oscars for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) and AMADEUS (1984), has had an eventful life both on and off film sets.
As a boy in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and a young man at the beginning of the communist era, Forman learned how to deal with hardships and found the primary subject of his films: the outsider who resists giving in to those who want to control his life.
During World War II, Forman’s mother, who ran a summer hotel, and his father, a teacher, died in concentration camps. A thirteen-year-old orphan at the end of the war, Forman was expelled from school for making fun of the son of a party official. Because of this blot on his record, the only university to admit him was the Prague Film Academy. After years of apprenticeship, Forman became one of a handful of internationally acclaimed Czech directors during the 1960’s. When his third film, FIREMAN’S BALL (1967), was banned for offending official sensibilities, he escaped to the United States. After several years of little work and less income, he attained his career goals after making ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.
The best parts of TURNAROUND do not focus on filmmaking. Forman, aided by cowriter Jan Novak, has a strong sense of time and place, creating evocative snapshots of Czechoslovakian life. His mostly self-effacing autobiography is a series of vivid anecdotes: saving a stray camel at the end of the war; the inability of schoolmate Vaclav Havel, the future Czech president, to control a bicycle; the adult Forman’s discovery that his biological father was a Jewish architect who escaped the Holocaust; French director Claude Berri’s coming to his rescue twice, once financially and the other time getting Forman’s wife and sons out of Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion. These and similar episodes make this memoir enthralling.